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Arab Spring needs ‘women in the room’

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Summary of story from Yahoo News, November 3, 2001

Iranian Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi says women in the Arab world should be vocal about their rights to avoid being short-changed by post-revolutionary governments.

Ebadi, a practising Muslim, also expressed hope that Arab men and women would learn from Iran’s 1979 revolution, when the overthrow of the shah led to the establishment of an Islamic republic which imposed sharia-inspired laws many women regard as restrictive of their rights.

“I think it is too early to talk of an Arab Spring, which should be used when democracy has been established and people can determine their own destiny and are equal and free. And we cannot forget half of society — the women,” Ebadi, a human and women’s rights activist, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

“If women cannot gain equality and the right to set their own destiny then that is not a real revolution and won’t lead to democracy.

“Our experience in Iran’s 1979 revolution proves this. We saw that people got rid of a dictator but instead of democracy he was replaced by religious despotism and many of the laws on polygamy, men’s power of divorce … and stoning were passed.”

Egyptian feminist Nawal al-Saadawi has also called for women to move fast to secure their rights as the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood looks like attracting mass support in a parliamentary election later this month.

“In Iran, the error committed by feminists and political groups was to put off the egalitarian demands of women until after the overthrow of the shah… But the women’s problems were not resolved and things even got worse after the regime changed,” Ebadi said.

Ebadi rejected charges by some Islamists that demanding women’s rights and more modern laws was part of a Western-inspired attack on Islam. Islam was, she said, compatible with women’s rights.

“I believe that if Islam is interpreted and applied correctly we can have totally egalitarian laws for women and strike punishments such as stoning and cutting hands from out of law books,” she said.

Ebadi was Iran’s first woman judge but lost that job following the Islamic revolution because the country’s new leaders said women were too emotional to be judges.

She became a human rights lawyer but, after suffering harassment, left the country in 2009.

“It’s no good if a dictator goes and he is replaced by another. I hope Arabs who have risen up in revolutions learn from Iran’s experience.”

WVoN comment: This just underlines how very important it is for women to be in the rooms where decisions are made. We can only hope that Ebadi’s call for action is heard.

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